Smart Office

How Slingshot created an open floor plan environment that makes employees actually want to be in the office

Building an effective open floor plan office requires more than putting employees in one big room with standing desks. Here are best practices and potential pitfalls every company should understand when creating an open workspace.

Open floor plans have been all the rage in recent years, but there's definitely a right way and a wrong way to do things. I talked to David Galownia, CEO and President of Slingshot, a mobile-based software and product development company based in Louisville, KY, that recently moved into a new office with an open floor plan. I talked to him and several Slingshot team members about the lessons they learned in building an open floor plan that both increases collaboration, but also respects employee privacy.

Bill Detwiler: You recently moved into a new building and in the process switched from individual offices to an open floor plan. Why did you make the change?

David Galownia: With a lot of our projects, we bring our clients directly into our office. We collaborate with them. When we're developing, we actually bring development staff from our clients into our office, work with them as well, and there's a lot of communication. So, we had closed offices, and before, everybody had their own office, which was good, I think, to an extent. It's very peaceful, and quiet, and all that, but I think to really facilitate more communication, having an open office made a lot of sense.

SEE: How to optimize the smart office (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Bill Detwiler: What were some of the challenges that you encountered during the process?

David Galownia: The number one thing that, really you didn't think about much, we didn't think about was going to be an issue, was visual distraction. So, you know, think about an open office. I always thought noise was going to be the biggest thing, and we have a white noise machine here, and that helps a lot. And people have expressed, you know, "Hey, I've got my headphones on, and it's fine. The noise does not bother me," so it's really the visual.

If you think about it, if you're sitting there, and people are walking by, or if you're at one end of the office, and if you're too open, and you can see all the way down to the other end of the office, you're going to get distracted if something's going on here, even if you can't hear it.

Rachel Foster: We ended up consulting with a Feng shui practitioner. As a team, we drew a map of the new space, and began, like try to place items and draw on it what we thought, but we quickly realized that we needed a little bit of help. Though we do user experience on the software side, we needed user experience help from a spatial standpoint. We worked a lot with color, and all the paint colors, and then how we wanted to ground the space. You'll see a lot of black throughout the space, to help ground all the bright colors.

Sunny Gulati: We laid out a blueprint of the entire area, and we started drawing on it with little whiteboard things, and whenever Dave came up with an idea of like, "And here's where the cubes are going to be," or not cubes, the workspaces are going to be, I would like lay them all out, and I cut out little pieces of furniture to see how they fit. Then I taped out the sides of my new office in my existing office, to see if I could move all my stuff in there and see if that would all fit. There's a thing in my head that's put in reality, and see how that fits.

Bill Detwiler: Now, what advice would you give to other companies who might be considering an open floor plan?

David Galownia: Move something else in front of somebody if they need more visual distraction. We brought in plants that were taller, to kind of break up some of the visual. We moved the spacing of walls. Our desks, you know, they were designed a certain way to begin with, but that all changed, you know? Because people could easily just take them and move them. So I think it's hugely important. I'm really glad that we have a big, open space. We have walls, but everything's movable, and it allowed us to really kind of hone in on a space where everybody could be happy, the designers, the developers, our guys who work on cloud, everything.

SEE: Download Tech Pro Research's report: Smart office technology: What's working, what's failing, and what users want out of it

Take your time. Make sure you do it right. Don't feel like you need to rush everything, and don't feel like it's done when it's done. Give yourself plenty of opportunity where you can change things if you need to. You know, you can move things around. Don't be so tied down that you put all your efforts into this initial design and boom, then you're done.

I think, with a lot of things, even with software, when we design software, it's iterative. I think make your office space iterative as well. The other thing I would say is just, you know, talk to everybody. Making sure you hear everybody's concerns, everybody knows why you're doing what you're doing. Try to get as much feedback as you can and incorporate it into your office. You know, so everybody can at least have a piece in there that they're really excited that they've contributed to.

Also see

Slingshot open floor place
Photo: Derek Poore/TechRepublic

About Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

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